How do you feel your crowd has changed by incorporating more of a ‘Dubstep’ sound into your music?
Jason Hann: In EOTO world it changed quite a while ago. When we first started we had quite a few String Cheese fans since they were the only ones who knew about us. A lot of them didn’t really like it at first because it wasn’t as organic as String Cheese and featured the use of computers. We weren’t drawing large crowds in the beginning and began to see even less fans so we decided to take a new approach as if we were starting a new band with no fanbase. We began to develop our own sound and even took the String Cheese affiliation off of our pages to get rid of any expectations fans may have had. It was just two dudes showing up to play improvised music. There was a huge boost in our fan base once we started incorporating the ‘Dubstep’ into our music. Especially since when we first started doing it, it had not really hit the states yet in the more aggressive, rage, full teeth and nails, style that you see today. It began much mellower sort of the way EOTO’s dubstep began and developed into the sound you hear today. As the sound developed the crowd did as well and became much younger and more accepting of all the kinds of sound we produced. This bass music that’s out today is kind of these kids’ rock and roll. Kids come out in piles and piles and can’t get enough of it. It’s amazing and we’re honored to have them come out.
I assume some of the members of Cheese didn’t like the EOTO side project at first… Do you feel that EOTO has influenced the current direction String Cheese is pursuing?
Jason Hann: Well the guys in the band never minded the EOTO side project, they just thought we were crazy. But it was never that they didn’t like it. The electronic sound has always been in Cheese since 1999 and Sound Tribe Sector 9 was a big influence on that. And if course Travis was on the playa with Loren (Bassnectar) back in ‘98. So its always been around but this year, and at Electric Forest in particular was probably the first time we felt like we were cohesive going through all the styles. If you look at our setlist it wasn’t as if we played a lot more electronic music, but when we did we were going for a very specific thing so it felt like it had more impact when we did do it.
Like Kashmir for instance?
Oh yeah that’s definitely one everyone was talking about and you get kind of a love or hate thing. Some people hated it but there were so many kids who came up to us afterwards and said, “That was the fattest bass thing all weekend.” So it’s a mixed bag and as far as our other stuff goes Travis and I will rarely say, “Hey lets do something electronic.” If we’re trying to re-arrange a classic cheese song. On the other hand, with Joyful Sound, Keith really didn’t want to sing that song again unless we did something different with it. We just search to keep pushing. It’s not always an electronic push sometimes it’s more of an African push or some other kind of style of push. That being said, the electronic style is probably the one that gets the most noticed especially since we have the EOTO side project.
Do you feel EOTO is becoming more popular in recent years?
It has definitely been growing. We have been selling out larger venues than before and headlining festivals such as The Big Up and Rhinofest this year.
One of the qualities that makes EOTO so unique is that it is 100% live and improvised. First off throughout an EOTO show there are a number of ‘covers’ you do where you sing lyrics to songs. When do you pick those songs, is it before a show or on the fly?
Yea all the songs I sing I pick totally on the fly. I have my ipad up there and that’s kind of a word reminder for me. All kinds of songs go through my head while we’re playing but I don’t really know the words to any of them. At some point I decided that I needed a way of when a song pops into my head of having a good chance of accessing it, putting an effect on it and making it seem like a live remix of a song. The music underneath it is going to be totally different so its kind of like dropping an a capella in and pitch shifting it or doing something else weird to it. None of it is planned out it just happens in the moment when we feel it would be a good place to do it. It doesn’t always work out, but usually it feels good. Especially when it really taps in and you can feel the surge of the crowd being like is that? is that? Oh Oh it is! It has really been a fun thing to do in the last year.
From personal experience, it seems as though seeing back to back shows will always have a completely different feel or style to them. Is the style of a particular show something you decide before the show or just based on the crowd and vibes?
Tonight for instance we decided before the show to start out with some drum n’ bass just to do things different because there’s been a really long time where when we come out and the crowds energetic we just decide to do the nastiest thing up front. For instance there were a couple of sets that we did this week where we started with something different like a120 house beat or a 105 bpm funk thing and those ended up being great because the whole dynamic of the set changed for us. Tonight we started out with some drum and bass and then went into some drum step and then based the whole profile of the set from there.
When you change from one style to another or have a big drop at one point in the set, what determines when you make that change. Do you find yourself feeding off of one person or a group in the crowd?
The drops don’t necessarily come off the crowd but you can usually feel it. Yeah we’re the ones doing the drop but the crowd does the drop too and sometimes that’s when you want to do it. Other times you want to do it when people are least expecting it. If were doing a trance thing and we can tell everyone is tranced out then we might decide to mess that up a little bit. Then when we break that you see it in people’s faces and the crowd gets wild. It makes it feel playful and much more interactive.
I noticed you have a new drum set with back lighting on it. It looks pretty nice.
Thanks. It’s made by this company called Spaun drums. They’ve been making custom made drums for a bunch of years. They aren’t a huge drum company but they’re very specialized. People that get their drums know that they are really great quality as far as the sound. At some point about 6 months ago I was looking online to see what kind of led lights you could put on a drum set. But most of them looked more like Christmas lights strung on the drums which I thought were kinda corny. When I saw these guys’ set I thought the effect looked really nice with an almost cloudy light to it. Since then we’ve met this lighting guy from the midwest named Herm who wants to take my drums and do really individual things to them to get patterns going. Almost like deadmau5 ears or something or have different words scroll on it. We’ll see how it goes. It’s quite the endeavor but we’ve had a good response with them so far so lets see how far we can push it.
Is it a smaller drum kit than normal?
It’s a smaller drum kit than normal but the same size set I’ve always used for EOTO. My piccolo snare drum has a 13” diameter. I have another little snare drum called a popcorn snare drum which is only 8” in diameter so it’s kind of abnormally small. The kick drum is also small with an 18” diameter but only a 10” width. They are really odd sizes. One reasons why they’re that size is so they could fit in the RV that we have always traveled in and also because we have gotten so used to the sound. It also sounds like somewhat of a different drum set and we were going for that too without putting electronics on it.
Speaking of RV’s did I notice a recent upgrade?
Yeah you did as a matter of fact we now are traveling in a full size tour bus, no more Rocky.
So do you guys have any New Years plans in the works?
We’ve got Minneapolis this year and the day before we’ll be in Salt Lake City. The show in Salt Lake City is with a guy that runs this stage at Burning Man called Temple of Boom. He’s got the most amazing sound system on the playa. We played there for the first time this year and he hadn’t heard of us. But when he saw us he was like, “Oh man.” He deals with all kinds of really big acts, he’s had Bassnectar out there for years and he hadn’t heard of us. But he knew our manager and we were able to work out New Years Eve so that should be a really big show. And Minneapolis, ever since the first time we played out there it has been a really big city for us. Really feel love and great energy there.
I’ve seen you play with special guests a few times before such as Bill Kreutzmann and Lynx, do you enjoy playing with special guests?
When I think about the special guests we’ve played with its pretty cool. We had this lady play with us in Hawaii, Toni Childs, who is a singer/songwriter who had some really cool hits out in the 90’s. We also had 5 drummers from the cast of STOMP play with us. They were doing a show in FortColins at a theater across the street from where we were playing. They had just finished rehearsing and decided to come to the show. We got talking and they brought pots and pans over and we set up mics and started playing together. We played in Boon, North Carolina the same night Umphrey’s was playing and all the guys from Umphrey’s came to our show and all the guys sat in except for Andy. But all the rest of the guys: Kris Myers, and Jake, and Bayliss, and Joel all got on our EOTO gear and myself and Travis sat back and let them take over for a while.
We’ve also done a bunch with Steve Kimock and Jamie Janover sets as Praang which is always a lot of fun. We have also played a few times with Kyle Hollingsworth and Michael Kang. We have done a few shows the last one we called The Trancidant. It just puts everyone in a different mode of thinking. There was a soul singer who was my original inspiration for looping in the mid 90’s. I played with him for about 3 years overseas in Europe and he sat in with us. Ultimately the sound in which we are most comfortable is when we are doing our duo thing, but that’s the fun part about guests once in a while because it makes us have to play different too. Listen to that other instrument and kind of blend our thing with them.
Have you started practicing for the fall tour with String Cheese Incident?
No, not yet we finish with EOTO on Halloween night and then November 5th we will get back in the practice studio with String Cheese and practice the rest of November. Then fly out to Asheville and have Thanksgiving out in Asheville, North Carolina together, play the next night and start that whole tour. That’s going to be amazing because we’re all getting in the bus together again and we haven’t done that in years…It’s a pretty big step you know because we’re going to suddenly be together for that amount of time after not doing that for three years maybe more.
That’s going to make you guys even tighter than you have been in the last couple years.
Yeah that’s the plan: spending a couple hours practicing at sound check each day or learning a new song. There’s just that day in and day of doing it and not necessarily going home at the end of the day. It’s another thing living it on the day to day with the guys you’re making music with. Everyone’s super psyched and were looking forward to it.
Can we hope for an EOTO after party for any of the upcoming Incidents?
Possibly the very last night of Chicago I will probably do a Prophet Massive DJ set but other than that we kind of made a pact with the other members of Cheese for each other that we wouldn’t do our side projects for after shows because you deal with not only getting other band members out there and flights but also you worry about sound check. The day of the show we want to make sure we can concentrate on just String Cheese for the day. Sometimes when you are thinking about the after party, do I have all my gear for that band? How do I get it out there? Did the other people make it? It can be distracting. It’s kind of like how at ElectricForest we didn’t do our set until the last night, after we had finished playing all of the String Cheese shows. It feels good like that because when we are in String Cheese mode we are all very present and not thinking about other stuff.
Has it been a while since Cheese has been on tour in the northeast?
It’s just been a long time since Cheese has been on tour. Besides Hampton, Virginia it has been a long time since we have been to the northeast which is one of the reasons why we’re touring there and Chicago We really haven’t done the west coast I mean its just been a really long time. It’s been a lot of Colorado, and Horning’s, and ElectricForest, and of course Rothbury. It’s a good start, we will get together and see were we are at, at the end of it.
So does this leave the possibility open for another Cheese tour?
Ahh, not immediately. When we get together in November we will have a meeting and plan out our schedule for the following year and at that point we will see where we are at. We won’t be doing a New Years this year so I’m almost positive we will next year. Everyone was itching to this year we just thought about it too late so I’m pretty sure we will plan to jump on a New Years show early to secure exactly where we want to play it and do things the way we want to do them.
Are you going to have openers on your fall tour? I know you had the Disco Biscuits for Hulaween…
Probably not. It will be all full nights with String Cheese. We’re playing on smaller stages and its going to be a little bit much to have to strike any gear or anything. I think we just want to feel like we’re where we’re at and that it is our home for the night. Same for the String Cheese fans we want to be able to play a lot more music than normal and use all the time we have and make each of those shows as special as we can.
I’m looking forward to it! Last question: If EOTO was one ‘thing’ what would it be?
Hmm, what would it be? I don’t know, probably something like an intergalactic squid. It takes all kinds of forms and shapes, we definitely change up the tone and texture of it throughout the night. There is definitely some pretty alien stuff going on, on stage some stuff is kind of beyond our control… I don’t know… definitely some kind of space creature. I’m not committed to it, but let’s go with that for now.